Written by Hannah Lee
Ivester Contemporary, a new fine art gallery located in Austin’s Canopy art complex, has opened its doors this week with its inaugural exhibition “Maiden Voyage,” and I recommend we all get on board. Ivester Contemporary, run by Kevin Ivester, who has made a ten year career as an art handler and curator, has opened his own much anticipated gallery that strives to represent exceptional local and regional talent, cultivate conversation, and heighten appreciation for the visual arts.
What I would most like to reverently express is that this gallery, fearlessly opening midpandemic, is the most graceful and poised F-You to what has proven to be the most relentless, disorienting, and disheartening year of recent history; however, I will be more poetic than that. With the exception of the new virtual art openings (a now accepted practice I find to only add insult to a large, gaping wound), Ivester Contemporary is the first gallery I have been able to physically visit since the shut down this past March. This is an important gap. The events of this year have disrupted our habits and thought patterns. If you are a responsible human being, you have reevaluated. Global pandemic death accompanied by the unremitting daily assaults of social, political, and environmental unrest has cultivated a universal fear that continues to bruise even the most hopeful of us. In the past we have each individually toiled with our own separate trauma, but now we are all here, convened under one large cloud, and the sentiment is different. We are collectively more aware of our mortality.
I entertain these thoughts as I make my appointment to reserve a forty-five minute time slot to view Ivester’s debut exhibition in isolation and continued contemplation as I enter the gallery equipped with my sleek, black, face covering, an accessory appropriate for occasions more intellectual than what my pastel blue and pink unicorn-patterned mask can accommodate. I wonder if works of art will strike me differently now. I’ve had a life long hobby of looking at art and feeling a lot of things. I really enjoy it. I’ve missed it tremendously. After six months of forced hiatus, I am eager to commence my looking and feel equipped to handle any number and genre of suppressed feelings that could be stirred.
Joy. That’s it. That is what will carry you through Kevin Ivester’s brilliantly curated show. Two large oil paintings by Sydney Yeager —luscious, thick, intuitive brushstrokes sweeping in and out of each other, entangling each other, enveloping, and releasing each other— these works will pull you through the gallery’s glass doors and hold you there. A flash of insight strikes you—like sunlight unexpectedly reflecting off a mirror and into your eye. You realize in that moment that you have been holding your breath for the past six months, and, for the first time in half a year, you stand in the quiet stillness and you breathe. Like the sweeping movements of these paintings, you finally feel free to move uninhibited. Nothing is off limits— at least for right now.
Four of Bradley Kerl’s most recent oil paintings are views from a window we have recently stared out of too many times. With honest and only essential marks, Kerl delineates a lucid but empathetic view of this year’s isolation and longing. Tom Jean Webb, who will have the first solo show in Ivester’s gallery space next month, seems also to reflect on the poetics of longing. In contrast to Kerl, Webb places us not outside of the world but enveloped by it. His expansive coloring-book-like landscapes of the American Southwest are playful yet somber in color. They recognize the majesty and the mystery of a living earth and the peculiar role of our journey within it. What strikes me most is the work that includes a figure: each piece of the painting has been designated a color, yet the figure remains empty and incomplete.
Ryan Thayer Davis’s fleshy oil paintings are vibrant matter reminding us there will never be a replacement for the rich experience of viewing art in person. The works of Claire Bresette, Jonas Criscoe, Bumin Kim, and Brook Burnside join this chorus. Bresette’s patterned ceramic tiles grouted together and encased in a durable cedar frame paradoxically embody the delicate aesthetic of a Japanese woodblock print. Jonas Criscoe’s clever collages of what appears to be the CMYK color model cut from an ink jet printer package present the idea of obsolescence as a physical object. The intangible elements of color and light become tactile in Bumin Kim’s continuous gradients. Composed of a meticulously arranged symphony of individual fibers, Kim’s work is a harp of color we can almost hear and must resist the urge to touch. Brook Burnside’s series of pastel and watercolor on paper is rendered with the architectural sensitivity of Charles Demuth who also worked with these temporal mediums. His work continues to serve as a vital landmark of defining the identity of American Modernism and our movement towards industry, and I couldn’t help but admire Burnside’s forms as a continuation of that legacy as we navigate through the ambiguity of a digital age.
Two digital works by Dave McClinton lead us into a separate space within the gallery. These interior portraits of a black female and black male speak especially to the current climate. They are framed separately but face one another; however, despite their ability to lock eyes, pervading and persistent isolation seems to overwhelm them. McClinton presents difficult and vital issues with sensitivity, kindness, and empathy. His work is necessary.
Ysabel LeMay operates within the realm of photograph and graphic manipulation as well. These dynamic, ornamental, and theatrical compositions of nature’s splendor are an allencompassing visual collision of every European art movement from the early 16th Century to the late 18th. In contrast to LeMay’s virtual simulation of nature’s expansive generosity, Ariel René Jackson focuses more on nature’s intimacy. Canvases enveloped in the thick physical soil from her childhood home lay the foundation for fragmented photographs of the spaces in which she grew up. Together, her work, a total of three pieces, hangs as an altarpiece to the dark beauty of life’s physical decay and our broken memories.
The dynamic photographs and painterly gelatin prints of Joel Salcido push photojournalism into a realm of vintage cinema and still life. Taken through the lens of an informative and impartial bystander, Salcido somehow manages to present the image with all the control of a director on set. Michael Anthony Garcia’s two photographs of rock littered with clothing wrapped around and filling the surrounding spaces seem to be a commentary on our indifference to the world that holds us. Eli Durst, another notable photographer, captures moving yet enigmatic narratives of connection in a generic world. They are full of meaning yet completely indecipherable. In mundane circumstances the familiar but nameless characters within it appear burdened by gravity with a desire to levitate.
The intricate linocuts of Juan de Diol Mora pull you into his world of dramatic perspective and meaningful cultural iconography through his flawless and energetic facility as a draftsman. His work is a masterclass in printmaking. Rachel Wolfson Smith’s large and small scale works in graphite demand attention as well. Each is a meditation inviting us to stop and truly see the world around us. They are rhythmic, perceptive, and focus not just on the importance of what is present, but also on what is lost.
Alie Jackson’s tufted Untitled, Arm With Tattoos (perhaps a tribute to Bruce Nauman’s From Hand to Mouth ?) hangs on the wall, the humerus bone exposed. This wall hanging, while stylistically juxtaposed to Smith’s atmospheric drawings, leaves us meditating on not just what is there but on what is missing. There is an unsettling humor to this piece, that, more than anything, made me smile. This comedy is matched only by the work of the two final artists, a collaborative effort presenting under the name Big Chicken and Baby Bird. Big Chicken and Baby Bird create work shamelessly authentic that answers to no one. It’s the Velvet Elvis of Surrealism coupled with what reads as a proud homage to Lisa Frank. Whoever you are, keep it up. I support you.
Ivester Contemporary is a gift to Austin, Texas. Please visit. Take your family. Take your friends. It is the perfect activity to enjoy during these uncertain times as you are not—never have been and never will be—allowed to touch anything. Make an appointment and wear a mask. Housekeeping aside, there is one sentiment, more than any other, that I wish to express here: As I walked through the gallery’s inaugural show, the lines of a poem by Jack Gilbert reverberated in my mind.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
“Maiden Voyage” speaks to the diversity and durability of art. Like resurrecting blossoms on a tree we thought had dried and withered, Ivester Contemporary’s first show is the affirmation we all need right now. The world is broken, but good art will always strive to hold us together. Against all odds, Art is persistent.